‘My son, the father said, ‘You are always with me, and everything I have is yours’
Luke 15: 31
‘It’s not fair…’
I can’t count the number of times in my life that I’ve uttered the words ‘It’s not fair’ , or even just thought it in my head…
And it’s absolutely true.
Life isn’t always fair.
Watching friends who have easily added two more babies into their families in the time that I have lost two pregnancies doesn’t feel fair.
Seeing some friends get promoted at work right now during a restructure, whilst others are made redundant just doesn’t feel fair.
And knowing that one of my son’s friends from nursery is losing his mum to cancer this week, at the age of just four years olds, definitely isn’t fair.
These situations, and many others like them, demonstrate that in this broken world we live in, things aren’t always right or equal or fair.
Sometimes really bad things do happen to really good people.
Sometimes life just isn’t fair. And, sometimes that plainly sucks.
Living under grace not fairness
But I think it’s so easy to allow this sense of fairness to seap into the way we think about our faith as well…
I mean, just look at how often the Psalmist, King David complains to God about the unfairness of everything.
Psalm 17:1 begins like this: “Lord, hear me begging for fairness; listen to my cry for help”.
And just take a look at Psalm 73: 12-14 where he writes this, before relenting that his heart had grown bitter:
“Look at these wicked people— enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply. Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason? I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain.”
In fact, the Psalms are just teaming with ‘It’s not fair’ laments to God – which I find somewhat reassuring.
Because have you ever noticed how it can be really easy to feel angry when others get what you think you deserve, and you are left feeling short-changed? And have you ever noticed how it can be really easy to start resent those who seem to make lots of bad decisions, yet still get extended the same goodness and grace anyway?
‘But that’s not fair…’ I have found myself complaining more than once, when I have watched God blessing others, who I judge to be seemingly less deserving of His favour than me.
If I’m honest, I’ve felt this way at different times about lots of different things…
‘God, why are you blessing them more than me? ‘ I’ve found myself crying out in frustration… ‘Don’t you see all my faithfulness too? … And don’t I deserve that more?’
‘It’s not fair’
But isn’t that exactly the point? Nothing about grace is fair. It was never meant to be.
The favour of God just can’t be earned, because we’d never be able to work hard enough.
And actually, if we got what was fair, we would all be separated from God. Even the ‘good’ girls and boys…
About the older brother
The parable of the prodigal son is probably a pretty familiar passage to most people who have spent any time in church. But this beautiful story about the Father’s grace in welcoming back his wayward son with open arms, is actually only one side of the story.
Because there was also a second brother…
And this second brother is actually the one I identify with more.
And if like me, you’ve grown up always going to church, following the rules, and trying to do the right thing, chances are that its actually this other brother that you identify with more.
The older brother was wrong too
Sometimes in this story, it’s easy to forget that the older brother was every bit as much a sinner as the prodigal son was, and His response at the end of the story only serves to highlight the true inner state of his heart.
His response to his Father’s elaborate display of grace towards His brother is essentially this:
‘But, what about me?’
I love this story because it’s just so real, so human; haven’t we all been there and said (or thought) something similar at times when others seem (to us at least) to receive more favour from God?
But the truth is that it’s prideful and selfish and it only serves to reveal a major spiritual blindspot in our lives.
Because whenever we begin to resent God’s abundant grace and goodness towards someone else, we are failing to recognise our own desperate need for grace too.
And what’s more, we are misunderstanding because we are still believing that God’s favour can somehow be earned, if we are only good, or spiritual, or upright in lifestyle, or faithful enough …
The Father’s heart
But just look at how the father’s response to his son silences the question of ‘What about me?’ once and for all. He simply replies:
‘For you are always with me and everything I have is yours.’
Wow! Just let that truth sink in …
The fact is that when you truly understand your identity as a child of God, you no longer need to ask ‘What about me?’
Why would you ever resent the grace extended to someone else who has strayed away, when you know that staying close to the Father is the very best place to be?
And why would you ever feel envious or threatened by God’s goodness to someone else, when you already have full access to all of the resources of his household – with all of the safety and security and protection that comes with that?
The truth is that His grace and goodness to others, doesn’t take any of His grace and goodness away from you.
There is no scarcity in the kingdom of God.
There is always more than enough to go round.
A final thought…
So in answer to the ‘It’s not fair’ complaint – you’re right, and so am i. It isn’t fair.
But at the same time, we’re also wrong.
Because it’s the wrong question to be asking and focusing on, when we don’t live under the paradigms of fairness, but grace.
And when we’re living under endless grace, surely the real question to be asking is this: ‘When Iife throws me an unfair hand, how can I experience more grace?’